Writing for real: Round Lake seniors apply skills to businesses
ROUND LAKE -- It isn't every high school English teacher who can get her students excited about writing.
But with 41 years of teaching experience to her credit -- 36 of them in the Round Lake school system -- Shari Nelson manages to keep incorporating fresh approaches that invigorate her classes and make her gush like a teenager herself.
"It's so much fun to work with them," expressed the veteran teacher recently as she described how the seven Round Lake-Brewster High School seniors in her technical writing class created "businesses" during the third quarter, and all the necessary written materials those businesses required.
"I had the students decide what small business they would like to start, and then they went through as much of the process toward that goal as possible," explained Nelson. "They designed business cards and logos, created a number of forms they would need -- fax forms, billing invoices and more -- wrote mission statements and developed return address labels, envelopes -- lots of fun things."
Nelson's enthusiasm must be inspirational to her students, for whom she provides a class that is educational but also practical and relevant to many of the students' immediate futures.
"Basically, if the students follow their own interests, they come up with some wonderful things," said Nelson. "One guy 'started' a construction company for home building and remodeling while another had a welding company, and another young man looked at a small engine repair business -- and these are areas they are thinking of pursuing careers in after high school."
In the preceding quarter, Nelson had assigned her students a career-focused research paper that had the teens considering the type of tasks they would be doing in a certain position, taking into account the job's pay scale and employment opportunities.
"A couple of the students tried something different from what they had discussed in the research paper, but they need that exploration," approved Nelson, who also coaches speech, directs dramatic productions and serves as a mentor for newer teachers at Round Lake-Brewster.
Another real-world lesson Nelson helped teach during her technical writing class is driven home with the help of Ned Jones, a Farmers Insurance agent based in Round Lake.
"Ned came in to talk to them about insurance and the kind they would need for their businesses," noted Nelson. "Would their businesses be sole proprietorships or limited liability corporations? How much does it cost annually?
"Ned is a Vietnam War veteran and has talked to Round Lake history classes in the past about the war," she continued. "He does a super job as a presenter."
Indeed, Jones made an impression on senior Mariah Brandt, who explored what it takes to open a cosmetology business; she dubbed it "Mariah's Beauty Parlor."
"It was helpful when Ned Jones came to the class," Brandt confirmed, "because I learned I wouldn't just need building insurance but also workman's compensation. The insurance wasn't as expensive as some other things I would need for the business, but it helped me be more realistic about the costs involved, and I feel better informed."
Brandt, who plans to attend cosmetology school in Jackson after graduating, discovered that it was the cost of equipment that will likely keep her from her dream of opening her own business for several years.
"You need hair products, curling irons, straighteners, blow dryers, but also massage tables and tanning beds, depending on what you choose to offer, and I want to touch on a little bit of every category," listed Brandt. "When I started doing the purchase orders, I thought, wow, it's a lot.
"I'll probably work over the years for someone and save up money, but then will still have to take out a big loan."
Brandt's classmate, Cody Dean, dreamed up "Dean's Construction," building on his goal of becoming a self-employed carpenter.
"I've worked the past two years for Sowles Construction in Brewster, pouring concrete, and after working on this [school] project, I realize how much work it is to start your own business and how much money it takes," Dean admitted. "Maybe I can do it in the future, but in the meantime I'll try to get a job with another local construction company."
Dean, whose dad also benefited from Nelson's guidance while a student, is looking forward to attending the carpentry program at Northwest Iowa Community College following his May 18 graduation.
"Mrs. Nelson made this a fun class, and it might give me an advantage in the future if I do start my own business," Dean said.
Nelson also encouraged senior Amber Brickson as she developed "The Caring Bridge," which she described as a "big home where parents and kids can come and stay if they need a place to go, or if kids are taken away from their parents, like a safe house," Brickson detailed. "My goal is to become a social worker who helps little kids who are in bad situations."
As part of her non-profit business development, Brickson wrote purchase orders for household supplies, toys, cars, beds and more.
"It was a lot of money," she said. "It made me realize that people might really want to do something but can't necessarily afford it."
Brickson, too, is grateful that Nelson helped the students see the need to "cover all your steps, and over-thinking is not a bad thing in this case," Brickson related.
"I like Nelson because she makes you see the real deal," said this young woman who expressed a desire to attend college after working two jobs during high school to help support herself. "She is very dedicated, and it was a good experience to have done this, to have some type of business planning, because it was an eye-opener for what to actually look out for.
"We definitely learned some practical skills for writing in the real world."